Two Vocal Tightrope Walkers

United StatesUnited States Resonant Bodies Festival: Furrer, Cage, Ablinger, Iddon, Johnson, Cassidy, Aperghis: Jeffrey Gavett (baritone), Christie Finn (soprano), Shapeshifter Lab, Brooklyn, New York. 7.9.2013 (DS)

Christie Finn (1)
Christie Finn in Georges Aperghis’s “Récitations”
(Photo by Bruce Kung)

Beat Furrer: Stimme-allein (1997)
John Cage: Aria (1958) with Fontana Mix (1958)
Peter Ablinger: The Real as Imaginary (2012)
Martin Iddon: pneuma.pistis (2011)
Evan Johnson: A general interrupter to ongoing activity (2011)
Aaron Cassidy: I, Purples, Spat Blood, Laugh of Beautiful Lips (2004-06)
Georges Aperghis: Récitations (1978)

 Typically, reviews are meant to be fresh and instant reactions to a look, listen, or read. If time passes before an expected write up, there is the luxury of a refresher if one’s subject is an art exhibit or a newly released novel. But what happens if you haven’t put pen to paper right after hearing a concert? It’s a fleeting moment of experience. Revisiting a composition via YouTube, Spotify, or CD (yes, some of us still have those) might give you the notes again but can’t recreate what actually happened in the concert itself. Yet, the power or success of a concert can sometimes be most telling as time passes and the memory retains what struck it most.

Nearly three weeks ago, I attended one evening of Brooklyn’s Resonant Bodies Festival—a three-day event dedicated to contemporary vocal music and boasting a rich repertoire from artists who curated their own performances, offering challenging and infrequently heard works. Frazzled by a frustrating re-routed subway journey. I rushed into Shapeshifter Lab—a tastefully grungy warehouse space with well-designed lighting—to grab a front row seat.

Barely having pulled out my pen, Jeffrey Gavett (baritone) took the microphone and effectively directed my attention away from New York’s chaotic transportation system into works that are emblazoned in my memory, all succinctly relayed, impressively interpreted, and skillfully rendered—and I do mean in the tightrope-walker sense. I held my breath! And yet he flew through challenging material by transforming his voice into countless sounds at every imaginable dynamic level in at least six different languages, like an avant-garde Mel Blanc (the man behind Bugs Bunny’s vocal genius), amazing this frequent new music listener. And even those unaccustomed to the experience of contemporary vocal music were blown away—like my rookie friend who turned to me smiling, and said, “Wow, I wish I could do those things with my voice.”

Following a short social break and clad in a bright red dress, soprano Christie Finn took the stage. While Gavett had applied himself to six short works, Finn chose to perform one sixty-minute piece, Récitations by Georges Aperghis. Like the best of Shakespearean actors, she drew me in. No, the words are not supposed to be easy to follow (even when you speak the French or German), but the emotions, the phrasing, the total commitment to expression that Finn embodied was as striking as the most moving soliloquy. I wanted to laugh, cry, scream, beat something up, and even on occasion run up on stage for no apparent reason—perhaps to apply cold compresses to her forehead as she paused between movements. While I can only imagine the hard work that goes into practicing such a demanding vocal work, the memory will linger of a performance rendered with the greatest dedication and humblest self-sacrifice. I can’t say I recall more than a few moments of how the piece actually sounded, but I remember how Finn made me feel as if it were yesterday.

Perhaps you will want to look up the Aperghis piece to see what all the fuss is about. Or you’ll be curious to hear what unusual sounds make up Evan Johnson’s A general interrupter to ongoing activity. But if you really want something memorable to take with you, it’ll be about the performers: seek out Gavett and Finn, live. For sure, they’ll give you something to write home about.

Daniele Sahr